"Out of Many, One": America's Forgotten Motto? - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

“Out of Many, One”: America’s Forgotten Motto?

Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, capitalists and socialists, industrialists and ecologists: We Americans make up a great plurality of pursuits, parties, ideologies, and “interest” groups in our personal and political lives. The authors of the Federalist Papers thought this could be a great blessing for our nation—but is it also our weakness? 

Aristotle observed in Politics that there is a certain multiplicity necessary for political life, “for a city is by nature a certain kind of multiplicity; by becoming more of a one it would turn from a city into a household and from a household into a human being.” Certainly, there is a “body politic” to be respected—but it need not exist in such a way that individuals and subsidiary entities must be eradicated. There should be both a balance of common bond and certain individual spheres. The Romans described this balance as Concordia—the virtue which upholds the good of a Plebeian farmer, respects the Patrician aristocrat, and ensures that individual goods and the common weal are maintained harmoniously together.

America is known as the land of opportunity, but we generally take this to mean that each one of us determines his own good and pursues it without respect to those of others—or of any good that might be applicable to all. Yet, E Pluribus Unum, or “out of many, one,” is the unofficial motto on our Great Seal and humble pennies. Among our individual pursuits and “interest” group concerns, I think we should remember what the Romans knew as the Concordia, which binds the destiny and daily business of one citizen directly to that of every other. America is our business together, and no one person or group can hold it entirely as their own, no matter how disagreeable or incorrect they find the opinions of their fellow citizens.

Michael Gonzalez is a third-year undergraduate student at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. He enjoys reading and discussing a wide variety of works—especially Homer’s epics and Willa Cather’s novels—and hopes in the future to pursue graduate studies in legal and political philosophy. 

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